The Power of Detachment: Brecht, “Annette” and the mysticism of Bill Murray

Or Pandemic Flux Syndrome and Me

After I got divorced it took me a year to read a book again.  I couldn’t do anything that involved much focused attention.  I could knit. In fact I forced myself to knit 32 hats that I sold the first year to pay for my kids’ Christmas presents.  But other than my self-imposed white-knuckled crafting binge, my psyche was pretty limited.  Finally reading a book again became the litmus test for feeling safe and (somewhat) grounded. 

This summer I’ve moved homes, lost a dear friend and started having full blown hot flashes and all the while the pandemic isn’t ending. It's been hard to go into the space where I can write.  That space of interiority and deep reflection for me harbors so many questions and when I think about them, they only elicit more questions.  I don’t have any pithy answers.  I only have Pandemic Flux Syndrome. (Maybe?)

One of my favorite Anne Lamott quotes is “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns. Faith also means reaching deeply within, for the sense one was born with, the sense, for example, to go for a walk.”

So this post is me practicing walking in the midst of the discomfort. 


So where is my attention these days and what do I know ? 

Well, in the most basic sense I know that I am, and I know this because my attention is focused on my am’ness.  A little Cartesian philosophy with my coffee.  But it's true. Part of what makes my existence knowable is my ability to reflect on my existence.  When we covered Descartes in History of Philosophy in college “I think, therefore I am” seemed obvious and useless to me.  “So what?” I thought.  

Thirty years later, however, I see the wisdom in understanding that my being able to think about my thinking is at the core of not only my sense of self, but my sense of connectedness.   This is part of the invitation in prayer, in mindfulness practice, in living a contemplative life. In doing a bit of digging around this subject I stumbled upon Dr. Gillie Barton, a British therapist, anthropologist, educator and Quaker, who specializes in the therapeutic benefits of reflective and reflexive writing. (I love the internet)  

Here is a link to the first chapter of her book, Reflective Practice: Writing & Professional DevelopmentThere’s so much packed into this first chapter but I’ll refrain from quoting ALL of it.  In essence, if I’m reading correctly, the difference between reflective and reflexive practice is that the purpose of reflective practice is to name what is already there around an event, to look closely at all aspects. “Reliving and Re Rendering” as Bolton puts it. This practice, while helpful, may just keep us spinning in story though. On the other hand, “reflexivity is finding strategies to question our own attitudes, thought processes, values, assumptions, prejudices and habitual actions, to strive to understand our complex roles in relation to others.  To be reflexive involves thinking from within experience.”  

“Reflexivity is making aspects of the self strange: focusing close attention upon one’s own actions, thoughts, feelings, values, identity, and their effect upon others, situations, and professional and social structures. This can only be done by somehow becoming separate in order to look at it as if from the outside: not part of habitual experience processing, and not easy.”

“Somehow becoming separate.” The power of detachment - not as a means to escape what one is feeling or thinking but in order to be curious about it and be changed by it. This is what hermits do, what those on retreat do, what we are all capable of doing when we slow down and get very still.

Right now, we might feel like victims of gaslighting. “I thought this thing was supposed to be over!?” “I started feeling hopeful. What happened?” That’s Lamott’s messy discomfort and I have to admit I’ve been avoiding it. No change happens through avoidance, but detachment allows one to think critically and perhaps to wait for the light to return.


This seems like the same kind of detachment that we see in the works of Bertolt Brecht (how’s that for a transition?), the German playwright and director who created the alienation effect. Brecht wanted his audience to always know they were watching a play so that they didn’t get so swept up in the story so as to lose their ability to think critically. The effects of Aristotle’s catharsis or purging of emotion is a reflective act - it names what is there in us as it is mirrored to us on the stage. Brecht’s alienation effect is reflexive in that it asks something of us.

I watched Annette the new film starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard. It’s a super weird film and it’s completely steeped in Brecht and his sense of alienation. You can’t watch the film without always being reminded that you’re watching a film. The film is bookended with the actors, musicians and crew singing and marching through the streets looking into the camera. The story starts as the actors pull on their costumes and go their separate ways. This is also a sing through musical, another tool to distance an audience, especially when the actors aren’t traditionally good singers. And the child, the titular character of Annette, is played by a puppet. David Sims from the Atlantic calls it “a bizarre and beautiful child whose entire existence feels like a bespoke nightmare.”

I found the film to be challenging and messy and stunning. So much of our story diet is too easy. It’s meant to numb us out. Annette didn’t always make sense, and it didn’t give us everything we wanted. But I’m not into pithy answers right now, so..


Speaking of detached irony, I stumbled on this amazing little video about Bill Murray a few months ago. I was curious about Bill’s interest in G.I. Gurdjieff, the Armenian philosopher and mystic. I promise that you will not regret watching this video, and it may bring this post into some kind of focus for you.

Amazing right? This dual detachment both from what is happening and from what I think about it so I can think about what I’m thinking about. This doesn’t make me less present, it makes me less judgmental. It makes me more compassionate, maybe more willing to see light in odd places. Maybe why Murray is so often seen showing up where he’s not expected.

I did an exercise with my students yesterday that I learned from Brian McLaren. It’s an exercise in reflexivity and in learning to see with a compassionate gaze.

The exercise goes like this:

  • Observe an object, perhaps an art object.

  • Afterward, notice your thoughts. Be reflective. What were they? Were they observations? Judgements?

  • Ok now look at the same object and this time observe it with a bias towards appreciation.

  • Afterward, notice your thoughts. Be reflective. How did they change? Were you able to suspend judgement and look for the good?

  • Now look at a different object, another piece of art perhaps. This time observe the object and observe yourself Observing the object. Reflexive thinking.

  • Afterward, what did you notice about the piece? About your thinking about the piece?

  • Finally, observe the object, observe yourself observing but with a bias towards appreciation. Both towards the object and towards yourself.

  • What did you notice?

Some of the students were able to see with the compassionate gaze, some were resistant and continually wanted to revert to judgements, only considering their preferences and opinions. Most had a tough time being able to observe both the object and themselves simultaneously. As Dr.Barton says above, “somehow becoming separate in order to look at it as if from the outside: [is] not part of habitual experience processing, and not easy.”

This power of separation, of detachment, of reflexivity is a learned skill and probably a skill all of us could use in this world that doesn’t seem to be operating the way that we expect it to. A world where children are played by puppets and Bill Murray shows up in my engagement photo. A world where I start sweating right under the air vent and a world where friends who are still supposed to be here are gone. A world where we’re still scared of getting sick.

Maybe you could spend five minutes today gazing at the world with a bias towards appreciation in spite of all it’s messiness; observe yourself in the midst of this gaze and be curious; and finally, notice how brave you are asking a question for which there is no pithy answer.

If you are interested in learning more about contemplative practice reach out to Kelley at aspiralspace@gmail.com.

A Eulogy for Andy Who is Found

the privilege to love

A few days before Andy’s body was found in the Hudson River he came to me in a dream. It was one of those false wake up dreams. I awoke to my phone ringing and his sister, Emily, was on the other line. She simply said, “please hold.” And then I heard his voice. “Hi Kell-Bell,” he said. The familiarity and intimacy of the nickname I hadn’t thought about in the month since he’d been missing struck me.

He said more, but I didn’t hear it because at the sound of his voice I just started weeping uncontrollably. You might even call it wailing. “I’m so glad you’ve been found.” I kept saying over and over. In my dream I was elated, but the tears I cried weren’t happy tears, they were mournful. I cried so hard that I woke myself as well as my husband up. My pillow was wet.

Andy had been found but not in the manner that we had hoped.

When I heard the news in waking life I was in the midst of a call with my cohort group from the Living School and we were discussing the Rilke poem “Go to the Limits of Your Longing.”

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

Book of Hours, I 59

- Rainer Maria Rilke, trans Joanna Macy


The poem now and ever will be tied to Andy for me.

Andy was certainly “sent beyond his recall.” As his father said at the memorial, Andy was given the gift of sensitivity without any of the armor for resiliency. Someone else described it as a thin membrane between his heart and the world. And yet Andy would continue to “go to the limits of his longing” with his work, with his relationships. At the end of his life, Andy realized he yearned for things that were always just a breathe away from him. He would say to me on the phone, “Why did I waste so much time trying to please the people that didn’t matter?” I think he longed for community and to be an instrument of love and healing in the world.

Andy was a fully embodied presence. As an actor his body was his instrument and he would often remind you how “in tune” it was. Though in the postscript of the last email he sent me he said, “Too many revelations of how I might have lived in a broken body I wish I wasn't stuck with.” He felt things fully and viscerally.

Many people at the memorial including the rabbis mentioned how Andy would show up out of the blue for visits. I remember having breakfast one morning and seeing Andy dancing on my front lawn. I watched him for a while before I went out to the stoop for a lengthy chat. Andy showed up. He was present.

The lines in the poem that most reflect Andy though are the next, “flare up like a flame / and make big shadows I can move in.” Andy was special. He was brilliant. His Uncle Tommy said “Andy was a comet.” How true!! Andy was a celestial event.

Those of us who knew and loved him were marked by him. I can’t even list the number of things Andy taught me and introduced me to. The comments that he would make that would move me toward new studies or insights. He taught me how to be a better theater teacher. He was the first person to teach me about the enneagram. He inspired me to become a spiritual director. Most of all he taught me how to listen and how to love someone not always easy to love. He told me once after a soul-searching conversation that he always felt like I saw him, saw the real him when we were together. And I hope I did, but I also know that Andy saw me and loved me in spite of my flaws; in spite of my not showing up and being the friend he sometimes needed me to be. He loved me enough to tell me the truth even when it was hard.

Those who suffer from bipolar disorder understand the next lines of Rilke’s poem probably better than anyone - “let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. / Just keep going, no feeling is final.”

I don’t know if the tides would have shifted for Andy if he had just kept going. If he could have stepped out of the terror to find beauty again. Maybe. But I do know this: that Andy did not “let [himself] lose [G-d].” I read this today and it felt like a welcome assurance:

“G-d is not simply alongside us when we’re dying. He’s inside the experience with us. He shares his death with us so we’re not alone when we die even if no one else is with us.” - Ken Tanner

I sent the quote to my friend Meghan, another of Andy’s good friends and she replied back, “I stood next to the river yesterday by the climbing gym and let myself imagine Andy’s last moments. I expected to feel dark and lonely terror, trying to put myself in Andy’s place for that moment. But instead, I felt God sort of nudge me in a different direction as if to say, ‘Actually, that wasn’t it at all. He was with Me, and all was well.’”

Which leads me to the last line of the Rilke, “Give me your hand.” Andy was not alone. Andy was FOUND in the spiritual sense. He was not alone and is not alone. God walked with Andy silently out of the night. Out of his Dark Night.

Rabbi Jim Goodman said at the memorial, God’s love is now flowing through Andy’s big vulnerable heart like a river out to all of us who had the privilege of loving him.

And it was a privilege. I feel like my memories right now are like one of those pin art toys where you push your fingers against the pins and on the opposite side it reveals a sculpture of your hand. Except when I push on the pins all my memories of Andy come up to the foreground and all memories without Andy fade behind. Last June, on Andy’s 47th birthday I spent the afternoon with him in my backyard. We ate cheese and drank wine. And last August on my birthday when my friend Bess made a video for my 50th, Andy made the longest recording. I only share Andy’s eulogy of me here in order for you to see what a dear, loving and thoughtful man he was. The best he saw in me is truly the mirror of the best I saw in him.

Andy called me “Everybody’s Horatio” a generous naming, though really I think I was simply his Horatio…

“There cracks a noble heart. Good night, Sweet Prince; and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest….” - Hamlet Act V, ii

A Letter to Andy Who is Missing

Learning to live with Grief as well as Joy

My dear friend Andy who has been struggling like so many with mental illness this last year has been missing for 12 days after he walked out of the MidHudson Regional Hospital of Westchester in Poughkeepsie, NY. He is lost without his phone, ID, or shoes. Please pray for his safe return and if you know anyone in the area, please send them the photo at the end of this post. - Thank you.

Dear Andy,

A few weeks ago I was going to write my blog post on inexplicable joy but then before I had a chance to write it, you went missing.

I was thinking of you when I was formulating the ideas for the joy post. It was a beautiful sunny day and I was walking Lola and listening to a Spotify playlist (Summer BBQ) and just the music, my dog prancing down the sidewalk with curiosity and energy and the long awaited warmth of the sun made me happy down to my toes.

I don’t express myself physically very often. You, on the other hand, are wont to dance without music whenever and where ever you feel the spirit move you. Me, not so much. But on this morning and the subsequent mornings I so wanted to dance down the street as I walked my dog. The joy in my body seemed uncontainable, and yet it stayed contained.

Each day I thought to myself, “You are a 50 year old woman, no one sees you anyway.” or “Why not be the wacky woman who dances down the street with her dog every morning?” I tried to convince myself, but my New England, Protestant self kept my joy under wraps and I walked with my heart doing only a slight and appropriate internal jig.

I thought of you because I knew you would have danced. And I thought of you because I also know the other side, the darker side of that dancing is how uncomfortable people are when people express themselves with abandon.

But then you went missing and I stopped walking Lola.

I know these last two years have been the most painful of your life. I know the last in particular has been unbearable. You have gone from someone who could dance with abandon, to someone who weeps with abandon. And yet, every time you wept I felt hopeful. They seemed tears of transformation - honest, repetant. But it seemed too much for you to bear and as quickly as the tears would start, they would stop and in their place - something less real that I didn’t understand and didn’t know if I could trust. They were the stories you, an unreliable narrator, told yourself.

Now you tell other stories too my dear playwright friend, and stories are certainly powerful tools for transformation. In fact, just today in class my students performed a play that they had written based on Twelfth Night. You would have liked it (criticized it, but liked it none the less). The students were surprised how Viola got over the presumed death of her lost brother Sebastian so quickly and without any shows of grief jumped head first into romance instead. So they based their whole devised play on the concept of grief and loss. Each student took the grief their character experienced and likened it to their own personal grief and out came a story. Transformation.

After the performance when the audience was giving feedback one student said, “It was so helpful to have moments of lightness and laughter even amidst the grief.” Then a long conversation ensued about how as humans we can’t have one without the other. Laughter and grief. Lightness and Suffering. We have to acknowledge both at the same time, incongruous as they may seem.

You’ve been missing now for 12 days. I’ve cried a lot and worried even more. But I’ve also texted you everyday as if you are right there on the other end of my iPhone laughing at how much your “chiseled abs” are being referred to in the Facebook “Find Andy” group page. And a bunch of us got together last Friday and are planning on getting together every Friday til you’re found - and we didn’t cry, we laughed. We talked about you and smiled

But the unreliable narration hasn’t come with the pithy punchlines like they used to, they’re stories of ancillary pain that seem at once to both distract and distance you from what’s going on. (I’m not a psychologist and this is certainly just my small sense of things.) I do know that you’ve been off your meds for as long as you’ve been missing which is scary, but I’m hopeful that perhaps that means that your grief has subsided a bit and that you are in a happier, albeit manic, space.

I picture you walking over a country club golf course, hospital scrubs, dirty socks and scruffy beard dancing like Puck through the forest. Or as Michael has hypothesized, as Edgar in Lear, covered in mud and taking on the personae of Poor Tom, biding your time til it’s safe to come out of hiding. Whichever Shakespearean play you have been transported to in the woods, I’m hoping there’s laughter and light there to balance the suffering of the last year.

Your sister posted the most beautiful reflection this morning about how to care for yourself in the midst of suffering. She referenced an OnBeing episode (and you know how I love those) of an interview with Pauline Boss, the psychologist who coined the term “ambiguous loss.” We as Americans want to fix things, to get past things, to heal. And yet, most times, Boss says, there is not closure. We learn to live with grief. And the most painful form of grief is that which comes with ambiguous loss. When a loved one is present physically but absent because of dementia. When a loved one doesn’t come home from war and is missing. When a loved one walks out of a hospital as they are awaiting a room in the Psychiatric unit. She even discussed ambiguous loss taking place during a divorce as one is simultaneously grieving the end of relationship and also co-parenting.

I wonder if your loss is also ambiguous which is why your grief cannot be contained?

Boss says when talking with someone going through ambiguous loss there are only a few things to say:

  • How long has it been?

  • What does this mean to you?

  • I’m so very sorry.

Emily, your sister said this:

The words soothed and affirmed.

I was able to get up and be at least moderately present.

When the afternoon rolled around, I had the incredible fortune to have a body worker come to our home.

She set up the table with heating pad and put the ethereal yet grounding music on and I closed my eyes and swallowed her touch. I wept a bit early on and then proceeded to see images and feel light that brought me ease. I emerged from the table and the room into a suddenly clear sunny day.

I was fully there, released from the imprisonment of my catastrophic thinking. I could feel and savor the breeze and warmth on my skin. I could see my daughters and feel the rapture of loving them and receiving their love.

I returned home and warmed the bounty of food brought to me by my dearest friends and was able to share the wealth with my compound community who have been daily holding together the pieces that would have otherwise been slipping through the cracks.

My life is also THIS.

I must not only appreciate and have gratitude, but I must return to this, just like returning to the breath in yoga or meditation.

I can feel the serenity of yesterday slipping but each offering of love and care and connection helps remind me that in this space of not knowing where my brother is or when he will return, I can always find myself here. Right now.


I want you to hear this Andy… Your life is also THIS. Grief yes, but Joy too. As the Psalmist says, “Joy comes in the morning.” It doesn’t say that the grief is gone, but that joy comes along for the ride. And from the same Psalm “[G-d’s] favour is for a lifetime.” The other day I was praying for you and had a strong sense. I heard, “G-d loves Andy. He adores him.” It felt like a promise of protection.

You’ve lived too long this last year without joy my dancing friend. I wonder if this is the nature of your illness, an inability to hold both at the same time - a difficulty with the both/and - instead an interminable cycle of dancing and weeping.

You texted Bill the night before you went to the hospital. “Hello Mr. Weber. I miss that beautiful bald head of yours. Please send my love to your lovely wife.” I read the text and smile often. I also read the last email I sent you a few weeks earlier before you even went to New York; the last thing I told you, “I am so glad you are found. Praying you continue to be found over and over again. Sending all my love to you my dear and beautiful and pain-filled friend. - K”

Come back to us Sebastian, our lost brother. Come out of hiding dear Edgar. Dance over this way playful Puck.

We love you so,

Kelley



Kelley is a spiritual director who works with people of all and no faith traditions. aspiralspace.com

I Talk About Jesus When I Drink

A Mother’s Day Story (not really)

Sometimes I drink too much. I’m an Enneagram 7. Sometimes I do everything too much. But today, as I lay here in the wake of a killer hangover, I’m thinking about drinking too much. 

7’s are the Enthusiasts and our vice is gluttony. We want more. We don’t want the party to end. Our virtue is sobriety. When we can step into sobriety we can be content in the present moment without always planning for more, more, more.  Sometimes I do that well, other times, not so much. It’s particularly hard to do this in stressful times and the last month has been pretty stressful.  

Some of my favorite people, my beloved people, are sober people. They are alcoholics who do the hard and transforming  work of the 12 Steps.  I’ve seen the biggest spiritual transformations in people who have gotten sober. And I don’t just mean the stopping drinking. That’s the first step. I mean living a sober life. 

What does that even mean “living a sober life”? 

To me that means knowing yourself well enough to know when you’re living out of your healthy self and when you’re reacting out of your brokenness. The Enneagram has been a great tool for me in this regard. I know what my fixation, which is planning, looks like and when I fall into those behaviors it means I’m not standing in the center of my boat.  Sometimes it looks like obsessing on Zillow searches, buying midcentury pottery I can’t afford, starting projects I don’t have time for, getting way too over involved in the lives of my adult children, and sometimes it looks like not wanting the party to end at happy hour. 

The Zillow searches and pottery buying usually don’t cause the shame spiral that a hangover does though.  A couple years ago I was in one of those shame spirals after a pretty terrible Mardi Gras. We were invited by friends we didn’t know all that well and out of maybe nervousness and .. well it being Mardi Gras, I got blitzed.  “It’s Mardi Gras, chill out!” you might say. It wasn’t that, the shame came from what I did.  When I get over served, I talk about Jesus. 

Yup.  Go ahead. Judge me. 

So at the King’s Tent at Mardi Gras as I talked to strangers I told them that I was on my way to seminary to become a spiritual director.  (Insert facepalm emoji)  

And then again, last night as I sat around with colleagues after bringing the happy hour to my front porch, one friend suggested we play “tell us something about yourself that we might not know.” I said “I’m a Jesus person.”  I might have said, “I love Jesus.”

First of all, if you’ve been reading this blog you obviously know I’m a Jesus person. And while Jesus did not turn water into Hi-C, this was still not the best moment to share a complex and deeply personal faith story. Not much nuance there to explain how I struggle with doubt, how I’ve deconstructed so much of what I was taught and worked incredibly hard to build a spiritual life that reflects the mystery that the Jesus story encompasses.  How, like Rilke encourages, I try to live into the questions and not simply have the answers. 

I had too many Tank 7’s to articulate any of that. Cue shame spiral. #😶🌪

After that fateful Mardi Gras my  emotional hangover lasted far longer than the physical one. How was I about to start seminary? How could I do this kind of work and feel like a screw up? I was reading Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People during lent and I stumbled on this passage: 

“God doesn’t make sense and you don’t need to either because this God will use you, this God will use ALL of you. Not just your strengths but your failures and your failings. Your weakness is fertile ground for a forgiving God to make something new and to make something beautiful. So don’t ever think that all you have to offer are your gifts. Sometimes the fact that there is nothing about you that makes you the right person to do something is exactly what God is looking for.” - Nadia Bolz-Weber

I took a breath and read it again. Relief. Yup, I mess up. I don’t have to be perfect, and even in my brokenness there is space for compassion. My hope became that in my own struggles I could walk with those struggling.

But let’s go back. Here’s a question: Why do I talk about Jesus when I drink? Perhaps my intention to be open about my faith when I’ve had a few is more telling about what I don’t say under normal circumstances.

There’s a stigma in being a Christian around like-minded progressive people. I always wanted to be Jewish. That seemed much cooler. Cultural. There’s assumptions made when you say you’re a Christian. Perhaps a naïveté that’s immediately ascribed.  People assume you’re homophobic or at least maybe “love the sinner, hate the sin” kind of homophobic. People might think they understand your political leanings or your feelings on social issues. They might even have questions about your intelligence or think you don’t believe in scientific theory. Maybe to them you just sound disingenuous and saccharine.

Or perhaps these are just baseless fears swirling in my head. Maybe a proclamation of faith is too big to be said out loud. It deserves something with more weight than a mere voiced pronouncement.

Here’s another question: Why Jesus? This was a question the late Rachel Held Evans asked when she invited a group of amazing women pastors and lay women to speak at the Why Christian? Conference. (I encourage you to read her blog about it.)

This fleshy, tangible, complex, multi-faceted, doubt-riddled, question-drenched, hard-won yet resoundingly-clear answer to the great riddle that brought us all there: 

Why Christian? 

Why—with all the atrocities past and present committed in God’s name, amidst all the hostile divisions ripping apart Christ’s Church, in spite of all our own doubts and frustrations and fears about faith—are we still Christian? Why do we still have skin in the game? - RHE

The answers were varied and beautiful but Rachel’s answer is the one that speaks to me most fully as a story person myself. She said, “I am a Christian, I concluded, because the story of Jesus is the story I’m willing to risk being wrong about.” That’s it for me. A story of God enfleshed and radically standing for the least of these, for the weakest parts of us, for transformation and forgiveness. A willingness to love in spite of everything. To love anyway. That’s a story worth the risk.

I hear people, including myself, equivocating when the subject of faith comes up:

  • I go to church but I’m really just there for community.

  • I’m spiritual but not religious.

  • I like the tradition but don’t really buy into it.

I don’t think you have to go to church or pray a certain prayer or even use any specific kind of God language to be a Jesus person. I know lots of Jesus people walking around who wouldn’t describe themselves that way. That’s ok. That’s great, actually. But as a culture, we’ve kinda thrown the baby Jesus out with the bath water. Maybe that’s why my simple, “I love Jesus” takes the liquid courage it does to say without equivocation and seemingly without shame. It’s too scary and charged any other way… Or maybe it’s just my version of a slurry “I love you man.” 

I don’t know, but as I finish this post on Mother’s Day, no longer hung over and attempting to move back into the center of my boat, I’m grateful for the too muchness of me, for the grace and compassion that trumps shame, and even for the cringe worthy and awkward stumbling of my professions of faith. Perhaps one day I can say it sober as a judge. Maybe even write about it in a blog.


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What does it mean to live in our bodies without shame? (and a guest post from nutrition coach Julie Layton on Food as Spiritual Practice)

When I was 12 years old and in 7th grade I was diagnosed with scoliosis and had to spend the next two years wearing a fiberglass back brace.  Needless to say, it sucked.  Let me count the ways it sucketh:

There was one good thing about the brace. A party trick. I’d provoke the 13 year old boys to punch me in the stomach and afterward when they yelled at me for hurting them, me and my friends would laugh hysterically and run away.  I had friends. I had lots of friends and my awkwardness and elastic pants didn’t cause them to love me any less.  I had moments when I wished I was Carrie Anderson, the pretty popular girl that all the boys liked, instead of Kelley Anderson, but honestly, the brace was more of a pain in the ass than the existential torment of my relationship with my body. 

That came after the brace came off and the boobs came on. I was a curvy girl. I don’t think I was fat. I remember my friend Michelle saying, “Kelley you’re not fat, you HAVE FAT.”  Honestly looking back I barely had fat. I wasn’t a lithe soccer player. I was a big-boobed dancer who weighed probably 120 pounds. I was healthy. And yet... 

The messages began. My parents got nervous around my changing body and started making comments. It was no longer ok for me to eat cookies after school. My skin would get a pinch around my waist with an accompanying, “be careful here.”  At 15 I started going to The Diet Center in town. I mean, who didn’t want to feel confident wearing a leotard and high waist jeans?

Someone that loves me dearly said to me once, “Kelley you’re like an anorexic but opposite, you think you look ok but you don’t.” 

... yeah.. ouch. So there’s that. 

We are always loved imperfectly.  And at the same time, we always receive love imperfectly. I’m sure there were thousands of messages of how good, smart, funny and beautiful I was. But all I heard was “you don’t look ok.” 

And what we don’t transform, we transmit right? So for as sensitive as I am to the issues around body shaming, I know my daughter has heard out of my mouth things that have diminished her sense of self and her love of her own body. And for that, I am deeply regretful. 

Being out of alignment with our own bodies is a form of spiritual sickness. And when I say “out of alignment” I don’t mean that we fail to worship at the altar of Keto while riding our Peletons two hours a day. I mean that we literally can’t feel what our bodies feel. We’re disconnected. We’re heads floating above an amorphous mass of flesh that just gives us signals to react. 

The shaming messages the world inundates us with disconnect us from our bodies.

Feeling how our emotions live in our body is so important to living a mindful, emotionally intelligent life. It’s also important for our safety. We need to understand how to trust our gut instincts around other people and experiences to keep us safe. If women are disconnected from their instinctual center, they are dangerously vulnerable. (And I don’t mean our instincts that have been co-opted by bias.)

Also, if we are disconnected from our bodies we can’t enjoy life the way  it was intended for us to enjoy it.  The pleasures of food, taste, yes but not just taste - how food can make us feel empowered and strong.  The invigorating high of exercise and putting our bodies out in nature.

And sex, not just the momentary pleasure, but the whole body, whole  being connection of body to body - soul to soul. We are meant to enjoy our bodies, and we are meant to know deep, true and beautiful things THROUGH our bodies. We are not just brains and hearts running around thinking and feeling things - we are meant to experience life somatically as well.

Meister Eckhart , the 14th century theologian and mystic said, “The soul is not in the body so much as the body is in the soul.” 

This rings true to me.  That we are corporeal and porous  beings swimming in soul.  Our bridge to connection is through this beautiful bag of bones. 

And speaking of beautiful bag of bones, CELESTE BARBER IS DOING THE LORD’s WORK.   Barber is an Australian actress turned  Instagram  comedian and she is a healer of body shame for women all over the globe. She recreates ridiculous social media posts and high fashion photos that often objectify women. She puts herself right there on the front line mocking standards of beauty.

We are so accustomed to seeing images that have been altered and enhanced, Barber’s self deprecating realism is a healing balm with every lol.

She reminds us what normal is and she reminds us that it’s good, it’s true and it’s beautiful. What a concept.

Today, one of my students did a monologue from the play Ashgirl from the Australian playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker. It was so heart breaking to hear the back and forth of a young girl looking at herself in the mirror, not trusting what she is seeing. But the final line stopped me in my tracks and I had to swallow hard before asking her to do it again…

ASHGIRL:

I’ll work hard,I’ll grow old, one day I’ll die. How can I go to a ball?

Look at me. Look at me. Look at me...Who’s that? Who are you? Who am I? I can’t see you. I’m ugly. I look disgusting, horrible.

What happened, where are you? I'm the wrong shape, size, I’m fat….

Maybe I’m not so bad. Normal. And my eyes seem very bright…

I’m so crooked....

There, I’m almost graceful. Actually, I am rather pleasing. There's something about having a body, two arms, hands, legs, it’s all rather harmonious…

What a prayer for us all as we look in the mirror. May we see the harmony and may we learn to listen to its wisdom.


Food as Spiritual Practice: Getting Rid of Black and White Thinking and Listening to Our Bodies

by Julie Layton, Generous Helping

I’m grateful for two reasons: one, because Kelley asked me to contribute this piece for her newsletter. I read and relish this newsletter every week, so I’m deeply honored to have been asked to contribute. Plus, I love writing and yet never make the time for it. Good thing that I’m very motivated by others’ deadlines and expectations (Kelley would say that’s the Enneagram 2 in me). 

And two, for the inspiration that came from reading my friend Michelle’s post “What it Means to be Good” in the March 2nd edition of this newsletter (go back and read it if you haven’t). In it, she contemplates the big-ticket concepts of self-love, worthiness, forgiveness and deprivation-as-penance in light of her perception of what it is to be “good.”

So many of us see food through the lens of “good” or “bad.” Think about it. Broccoli: good. Hostess cupcake: bad. Berries: good. Taco Bell’s Nachos BellGrande: bad (actually, quite delicious at 2 a.m.). We can all agree on these, right? But let’s delve deeper: Whole-wheat bread? We know whole grains are better than white flour. So, good, right? But when whole grains are milled for flour, they’re not as healthful as they are when left intact; in fact, any refined grain acts more like a sugar in our bodies. Ugh! So…bad? If a person with Celiac eats wheat of any kind, it can be quite dangerous. So, in this case: really bad. If a family of four who struggles to get food on the table is able to feed everyone cheese sandwiches on bread of any kind, can it really be bad?

You see my point: labeling food “good” or “bad” is troublesome and downright confusing. And besides, what does “good” food even mean? Does it mean it helps you lose weight? Does it mean it’s delicious? Does it mean it fits within the confines of a way of eating you subscribe to? For example, when I was strictly Paleo, I would call rice “naughty.” There’s honestly nothing “naughty” about rice. It feeds most of the world’s population and can definitely be part of a very healthful diet. But my view was very black and white, and I was comfortable there. Any dogmatic way of eating is both comfortable and tough. Tough, obviously, because some foods are off limits and therefore tempt you. But comfortable, because someone else has drawn the line between “good” and “bad” for you.

In my own quest to better understand food and help others create their own healthful food journeys, a few years ago I enrolled in the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (https://www.integrativenutrition.com), where I received my health coaching certification. IIN promotes the idea that health can’t be achieved through food alone and emphasizes the concept of bio-individuality: that no two people are completely alike, so how we achieve health and happiness will look different for us all. “Sure, sure,” I thought, “but there are obviously indisputable truths to what we should eat.” Throughout the year-long program, IIN curated a lineup of many well-respected and credentialed people presenting their very different ideas of which foods were “good” and “bad.” It made my head spin! I panicked. “Oh great; I enrolled in this program to make nutrition clearer, and here it’s confusing me more!” I was looking for rights and wrongs, dos and don’ts; instead, all I had were more questions. 

In the end, however, I came to realize what IIN was ultimately teaching its students: there are no right answers for everyone. (Aha! There’s that concept of bio-individuality.) Only we alone have the answers to what our bodies need. Not her body, not his body; my own. As a coach, I cannot prescribe any way of eating to my clients; it just doesn’t work that way. I can, however, encourage them to slow down, get quiet and notice the differences they feel after eating processed food versus whole food, for instance, or drinking water instead of soda. Because when we start listening to the feedback our bodies give us and respecting that with our actions, we will be our healthiest selves. 

It’s hard work listening to ourselves, which is why so many people struggle in their relationship with food--there are a lot of other voices in there making noise, it’s easier to believe others than ourselves, and we may have to reevaluate how we view “good” and “bad” if we listen that closely.

Inspired by all of this, I have started a home-cooking coaching business (called Generous Helping). It’s my personal belief that when we cook for ourselves and our people with whole foods that work best with our bodies, we’re committing a radical act of self-love. And I want that for my fellow humans. 

Isn’t that just what Michelle concludes in her reflection on what it means to be good? That there is no such a thing. All we can do is be whole by honoring who we are.


Interested in Spiritual Direction?

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